Legislators should be under same law as the people

As California Legislators, we are responsible for developing and implementing laws which society must abide by. Every now and then, elected officials get the perceived notion that they are above the law. During the last legislative session, the state Senate witnessed three Democratic Senators indicted or convicted for violating the very laws they are responsible for upholding.

If the laws that Sacramento passes are good enough for our citizens and businesses; they should be good enough for elected officials to comply with as well.

The most contentious issue during my first term in the state Legislature was the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

My position on the ACA has been consistent: if I had been a Member of Congress I would have voted “No.”  But the fact is Congress passed it, the President signed it, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed it, and voters ratified that decision by how they voted in the November 2012 elections.

So as a State Legislator I believe it's my job to make sure the ACA is as effective and efficient as possible.

On January 1, 2014, ACA went into full effect. By the end of the first open enrollment in April, 1.4 million Californians had signed up for our state's plan called Covered California. And the current figure is 2.2 million enrolled.

One of the most important things I do as a Legislator is help my constituents deal with problems with the state bureaucracy. Next to the Employment Development Department, no issue has generated more problems and complaints than Covered California.

The three main complaints I hear about Covered California is the application process, understanding the qualification of the program and dealing with insurance companies. While applying on the website, users tend to be kicked off repeatedly for internal technical errors and the site is overall very slow. As for the qualifications, they are not clear. Many people get declined by Covered California and then are placed on Medi-Cal, leading to confusion of which program they should be on. And there is a lot of back and forth with the insurance companies and Covered California. The insurance companies implement changes mandated by Covered California and when users have problems with the policy changes and try to resolve the issues, Covered California point's fingers back at the insurance companies saying it's “not their problem.”

Based upon all the horror stories I heard, I believe the best and quickest way to fix the problems with Covered California is to have those who have the power to correct it, live under it.

So I will be introducing legislation that would require all State Legislators who wish to enroll in the optional health benefits plan offered by the Legislature to purchase their insurance through California's Health Benefit Exchange.

If we truly want to understand how the ACA is working and being applied to our everyday life, there is no better way than to enroll in the Exchange along with the people who elected us and share in the same benefits program.

If a Legislator is covered under insurance by a spouse or partner, they will not be required to enroll in the Exchange if they choose to stay on their current health plan. Legislators that are currently enrolled in a private insurance plan outside of Covered California may stay on that plan, but they will not be able to take the voucher as a reimbursement for the cost of their insurance plan.

This measure will require current and future legislators to enroll in health benefits through Covered California if they wish to take advantage of the benefits offered through the Legislature. Using the current value of health benefits offered members will be able to enroll in a health plan using a voucher for that amount, with any savings being returned to the State. 

Currently, Legislator's salaries and benefits are approved by the Citizens Compensation Commission and signing up on the Covered California website for the exchange program would not affect the commission's jurisdiction over legislator's compensation.

It is imperative that as public servants, we lead by example. I believe this legislation will lead to a better managed health care program that affects millions of Californians.  Legislators living under the same program as the people reflect our federal government's founding principles of equality.